Ep. 43 Your Product Isn’t Done…Sorry


APR. 1, 2021


Welcome to episode 43, Your Product Isn’t Done…SorryActually, I’m not sorry. Your product just launched? Great. Unlikely it’s really fully baked. It’s NOT because most of you are new to CPG. This is not another grey hair on the digital airwaves patronizing the newbs. That would be way too simple. And mean.  


So why do I have such a strong opinion? Research. And one other thing.  


I used to participate in gargantuan product development efforts at Big companies. Often 3 years long, they would begin with almost academic levels of contextual research, concept screening, iterating, tweaking…all before one lousy product had even been made in their ginormous factories, let alone consumed by a real human being. 


At BigCo, the emphasis is on the politics of the launch as much as its potential business value. Everyone wants a trail of consultants, decks and forecasts to justify the launch and to get everyone off the hook, when it fails to sustain any scale or fails to scale at all. The latter is the case most of the time in part because the forecasting tools are calibrated to yesterday’s mainstream offerings, leading to totally non-incremental, dull, not memorable replacements of existing product experiences, consumer boredom and little repeat purchase. Like 10% or lesson an annual basis. 


So much for market research and forecasting. Most of the time.   


The advantage that CPG entrepreneurs have is that they designed their innovation for a known behavioral niche in which they actively participate right nowThat niche is the product of combining emerging attributes with a category they haven’t appeared in yet. Intuition from inside the niche guides the successful entrepreneur, not market research. You are not a bureaucrat more concerned about furthering your career with a conservative idea more likely to succeed than satisfying the end consumer with meaningful innovation 


The mystery that you the founder have NOT likely figured out at launch is how to communicate your innovation with a) the right consumer audience to generate cash efficient sales early on and b) the audience(s) that can help scale the business later on 


The likelihood that you’ve figured out the second audience at launch is super remote, let alone how the brand identity should be setup or pivoted to garner their attention. You are also unlikely to be able to see the boring ‘outcomes’ that matter to the audience that will scale your business and be able to fine tune the symbolism or storytelling required to maximize memorability and trial from the right consumers.  


Often, I see founders jump to a rebrand due to poor business performance without doing their homework on their end consumer. Often, the most valuable consumers have looked past your messed up symbolism and communications and figured out your offering BEFORE YOU HAVE. This may or may not be reflected in your overall sales performance. This was the case for Chobani, KraveSiggi’s, KIND and so many other Skate Ramp brands that, unlike SKiNNYPOP, were NOT automatically accepted up front as genius ideas. Consumers figured it out ahead of all the analysts though. You have to reach out and tap what they’ve figured out. 


The more optimized your package symbolism and out-of-store messaging is, the better your trial rate among strong purchase intent i.e., price insensitive premium buyers will be. This is optimization only fan interaction can help you achieve. But, you have to collect information from your fans to figure this out. Too often, I encounter founders guessing with a graphic designer or hiring cheap branding outfits that don’t use data to drive their decisions. Face smack. 


Getting your product ‘finished’ so-to-speak is also about objectively understanding your sensory experience and knowing how to scientifically communicate it to co-manufacturersThis is not as simple as making it taste exactly like the market leader in your category. Sometimes it is. Often though, the real competitive edge is something marginal to the mainstream of sensory expectations in the category but not totally disgusting. A marginality in sensory experience that has the potential to convert enthusiastic fans over time. This is exactly what Spindrift and Siggi’s have accomplished… 


Package symbolism, external communications, sensory cues. It’s amazing how many founders can see one thing in their line when highly lucrative fans see something else entirely.  


Co-creation is the term once used to describe what I’m pointing to here. It was a brief design fad in the 2000sIt helped folks like IDEO design innovative ‘experiences’ when conventional consumer research could not access novelty through language and conscious awareness. So they’d pay for example, they’d literally pay rooms of kids to play with objects and then ‘divine’ inferentially brilliant prototypes for toys from the children’s amateur, unconscious creations.  


I bring up the phrase co-creation not to re-awaken the fallacies of pre-launch overthink. I’m urging you to listen to your early fans as you’re in the marketso you can tap the real power of inmarket innovation/iteration. The real world is the only real way to understand what a new CPG product line means and feels like. You cannot forecast it. You cannot hire an anthropologist to predict it. I’m sorry. 


Have I just handed every creepy branding agency a reason to call you? Probably. Because they’ll read my book and they’ll pretend to be able to figure this out. If they do reach out citing my book, remember, they’re graphic designers not business strategists. If you hire them, make sure you have your own research and competitive strategy figured out before you do You should never, ever hire executional agencies to devise your overall strategy. Ever. This is never done at BigCo for a reason. That’s your job to figure that stuff out, as a founder and leader. You should know your consumers better than anyone else. Not some branding agency you work with for two months. If you don’t already, it’s time to get on that so you can really, truly finish your product line. 


That’s all I got folks…and remember, be safe out there.